Significant Khmer Rouge leaders of the Southwest Zone

In April 17 1972 a primary school teacher, Ith Sarin, left Phnom Penh and spent six months travelling through territory held by the communists.1 His trip has become important historically because what he saw, and lived to write about, captured the transition in the communist movement from being more open, less violent and proudly aligned with the wider struggle through Indochina to a more closed, more violent and xenophobic movement.

When the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh exactly three years after Sarin left, the internal battle within the maqui (resistance) had been won by the faction led by Pol Pot and Ieng Sary. Sarin spent time in the Southwest Zone and later wrote that the zones most influential personalities were Chou Chet, Phouk Chhay, Sieng Po Se, Thuch Rin and Ta Mok.2

Ta Mok - at a glance

Name (alias): Chhit Choeun (alias Ta Mok and Ngon Kang)

Before joining maqui: rice farmer in family home in Tram Kak district, Takeo province.

When joined the maqui: Left home to join the Issaraks in 1949, and became a leader within 12 months

Responsibilities pre 1975: Military commander and leader of Southwest Zone from 1968. Central Committee member since 1963

Ta Mok extended biography, part two.

Preparing for power (1968-75)

Before the coup in 1970, the communist movement struggled to win the support of the peasants. KR leaders in the Southwest Zone lived a physically tough and deprived life in the high country where Tram Kak district (Takeo) meets Chuuk and Angkor Chey districts (Kampot). Repression was severe as Lon Nol sought to destroy the movement and the US air force began their bombing campaign in the zone.


When the Khmer Rouge pushed into Phnom Penh in April 1975, Ta Mok and his family networks were primed to unleash the networks they had put together over the last five years.

Mok himself led the attack from the south, through Takhmau. His son-in-law Soeun led the final assault on Takeo, with a large loss of life for the defenders. Another son-in-law, Khe Muth, controlled Cambodia’s only coastal port at Kompong Som (Sihanoukville) and was made commander of the new Democratic Kampuchea navy.

Chou Chet – at a glance

Name (alias): Chou Chet

Before joining maqui: He was part of the Issarak delegation arising out of the Geneva talks in 1955, and was the editor of various left wing newspapers, which made him a target for Sihanouk. Arrested twice in the 1960’s before fleeing to the jungle

When joined the maqui: He went to Southwest Zone and was in and out of the Central Committee of the CPK

Non Suon - at a glance

Name (alias): Non (Chey) Suon

Childhood origins: peasant family in Kampot

Before joining maqui: jailed by Sihanouk in 1962, and was there until 1970. Prior to that was an early leader of Southwest Zone (United Issaraks Front in late 1940’s) and a leader of the Pracheachon Party, the ‘semi-legal’ communist front until his arrest.

Phouk Chhay - at a glance

Name (alias): Phouk Chhay,

Relevant childhood facts: born into a very poor farming family in Takeo province.

Before joining maqui: leader of student movement in Phnom Penh, in mid 1960’s and an early leader of Sino-Khmer Friendship Association. Travelled to China and was enthused by aspects of Cultural Revolution promoting them to Sihanouk. He worked in banks and had commercial training. He was jailed in 1967 by Sihanouk following the rebellion in Samlaut.